Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 22, 2002
Monitor your indoor air quality
Making informed lifestyle choices impacts all of us
By SUZANNE ELSTON
One of the inherent difficulties in dealing with environmental issues is scope.
The air we breathe, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, even the medium that these words are recorded in, are the content.
Replacing the word environment with universe would give us a better grasp of how ubiquitous the environment truly is.
Two recent publications illustrate the inescapable fact that what we do to the environment we do to ourselves. The first is a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report, entitled The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality, examines the impact of indoor air pollution on human health.
Many of us make the incorrect assumption that pollution is something that we can avoid. When it's smoggy outside, just close the windows and turn on your central air conditioning or filtering system.
Unfortunately, the EPA study shows that levels of some indoor air pollutants can be an astounding 100 times higher than outdoor levels.
Since most of us spend 90 per cent of our time indoors, this can have dramatic health impacts.
According to the EPA, "Certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds and other viral diseases, so it is often difficult to determine if the symptoms are a result of exposure to indoor air pollution."
Some of the many symptoms include irritation of the eyes, nose or throat, headache, dizziness and fatigue.
Other more serious, potentially deadly effects such as respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer can show up after a number of years of exposure.
Some sources of this pollution include building materials, air fresheners, unvented or malfunctioning stoves and furnaces, solvents, paints, cleaning products and pesticides.
Ironically, in homes that are designed to reduce their impact on the environment by being energy efficient, pollutants can accumulate and further exacerbate health impacts.
The problem is a lack of fresh air being vented into the home.
If you think the answer to our indoor air woes is to simply open a window and let in some fresh air, consider a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study Lung Cancer, Cardiopulmonary Mortality, and Long-term Exposure to Fine Particulate Air Pollution has concluded that "Long-term exposure to combustion-related fine particulate air pollution is an important environmental risk factor for cardiopulmonary and lung cancer mortality."
So the smog that is created by the burning of fossil fuels to drive our cars and heat our homes is also killing us.
The study focused on just one component of air pollution: combustion related fine particulate matter that is emitted from cars, coal-burning power plants and factories.
"We found that the risk of dying from lung cancer as well as heart disease in the most polluted cities was comparable to the risk associated with nonsmokers being exposed to second-hand smoke over a long period of time," said study co-author Arden Pope, an epidemiologist at Bright Young University in Utah.
Start with little steps.
When it comes to cleaners, don't use anything you wouldn't want ending up in your drinking water.
When decorating, buy paint and other materials that carry the EcoLogo. Buy goods made from natural woods, rather than from pressed wood products.
Don't let anyone smoke in your home and try to cut down on your gasoline consumption by taking public transit, car-pooling or even walking. We could all end up breathing a lot easier.
Recommended websites:Excerpts from The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality can be found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website at www.epa.gov/iaq. Lung Cancer, Cardiopulmonary Mortality, and Long-term Exposure to Find Particulate Air Pollution is posted on The Journal of the American Medical Association's website. Go to jama.ama-assn.org. For more information about EcoLogo products and the Environmental Choice program, visit www.environmentalchoice.com.
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